Monday, May 16, 2011

The curse of endometriosis

My cycle arrived yesterday with very little fanfare and then knocked me to my knees with a swift kick to the midsection around midnight.

The arrival of my cycle is not devastating to me. I hope for pregnancy, but I never expect it. I have been interested in the symptom changes I've experienced over the past five months of altered diet. While my cramping symptoms at the onset of my cycle have never disappeared, they seem to be milder and usually disappear completely with a quick dose of Naproxen.

At least until this month.

Let's just say that it took two doses of Naproxen and two extra strength Tylenol over the course of the first four hours of the night to finally dull the pain enough to sleep a few short hours before greeting my Monday with groggy reluctance.

This was pain. PAIN. The last time I recall feeling that kind of intense pain was in college. Last night, I spent the better part of my "quality sleep hours" (10pm-2am) alternately falling into my college pattern of praying for relief (pleasepleasepleasePLEASEmakeitstop) and thinking about/praying for women who actually suffer this kind of pain on a regular basis.

Endometriosis is a tricky thing. For some women, it barely manifests itself in outward physical symptoms at all. In others, it is devastatingly painful for part of all of their cycle. I have met women who have been on some pretty powerful hormonal contraceptives for YEARS just to keep the pain at bay. I have met others who have opted for hysterectomy, which doesn't always clear up the symptoms completely.

Despite my STRONG convictions against contraceptives and hysterectomy as a way to "treat" endometriosis, when I am in the throes of pain like I had last night, I cannot fault the women to turn to such treatments for relief. I can fault their doctors for not trying harder to treat the disease and give them nutritional counseling and/or strong anti-inflammatory drugs. But the women? THEY JUST WANT TO FEEL HUMAN AGAIN.

Endometriosis hides. These pockets of rogue endometrial tissue can be found just about anywhere in the abdominal cavity, and there are documented cases of it finding its way to other unlikely spots in the body. Even the best surgeon can miss spots of it if it migrates to unlikely places. And it responds to rises in estrogen just like the tissue does in the uterus. It gets inflamed and causes pain wherever it happens to be attaching itself. Thus, the anti-inflammatory diet.

I have a theory about my night-of-war-with-my-body. I have been avoiding milk and its associated estrogens, limiting my dairy to a few servings of cheese or sour cream per week. But this week, I've been experimenting with homemade ice cream in hopes of bringing it as my dessert contribution (with fresh strawberries) on our family camping vacation in a couple of weeks. On Thursday and again yesterday, I consumed somewhere around 3/4 cup of heavy whipping cream and milk. The estrogen hides in that milk fat. And I fed it to my system right before my period. Genius.

I think I'll make a shortcake for my strawberries instead.

And I'll be praying for those with debilitating endometriosis. It affects more than fertility in so many women.

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